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Pope Francis visits Great Synagogue in Rome on possible fence-mending mission

January 17, 2016 - ITALY

Pope Francis will visit Rome's Great Synagogue on the bank of the River Tiber for the first time since his election in 2013, possibly a fence-mending trip. He has received considerable criticism from Jewish leaders for supporting Palestinian statehood aspirations.

In Jun 2015, the Vatican signed a comprehensive treaty with Palestinian authorities that represents a formal declaration of the Holy See's support for the creation of a Palestinian state and the peace process with Israel. According to Foreign Policy magazine, the agreement follows the Vatican's decision in May to change the status of its diplomatic relationship with Ramallah and officially forego the recognition of the PLO to make way for the State of Palestine.

The treaty caused outrage in Israel. An editorial in the Jerusalem Post on May 20 led with the following charge: "Pope Francis - like Pope Benedict - has joined the evil-doers to the chagrin of the Jewish people." It asserted that the pope has suffered a serious blow to his spiritual and moral authority following the Vatican's recognition of the State of Palestine in a new treaty announced on May 13.

Francis will be the third Roman Catholic pontiff to visit the seat of Rome's Jews. Saint John Paul II visited in 1986 and Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.

The Catholic News Service explains that Pope Francis has made interreligious dialogue and relations with Jews a priority in his pontificate following his longtime efforts as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Representatives of the Jewish community attended Francis' inauguration.

Accepting invite from Rome's Jewish community, pope to visit synagogue (CNS 17 Nov 2015)

Israel Decidedly Unhappy With Vatican-Palestine Treaty (Foreign Policy 26 Jun 2015)

Pope forfeits spiritual and moral authority (Jerusalem Post)

Date written/update: 2015-11-25